Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day is April 22. Will its Celebration Change Anything? |

A recent Ipsos Reid poll for Postmedia News reveals that only 5% of Canadians think of the environment as a key issue that our federal parties should be discussing, and even poll figures from Day 22 of the campaign from Nik Nanos rank it well below heathcare and jobs/economy at 4.3%, a drop from 5.1% on April 16.   These are shocking numbers for a variety of reasons, among them that respondents to the polls are apparently unable to see a connection between health and the economy, on the one hand, and the “health" and “the economy" of the planet, on the other. So who can blame the four federal parties for ignoring this issue? To them, obsessed with trying to win as many seats as possible, it’s just one of many issues in a long list.  Political expediency, as is so often the case,  trumps both principle and, in this context, reality.  The  absence, in varying degrees,  of a meaningful strategic policy initiative in  three of the four federal parties and in all four the recessing of serious discussion on the most pressing issue our world has ever faced  during this federal campaign is a direct result of such ordinary Canadians’ apparent indifference to it.

I write of course about the crisis in our biosphere — the rapid and now, it would seem, inevitable  movement towards the total destruction of our planet and everything in it through the unconscionable industrialization of the planet over the past century and a half that manifests itself in countless ways, not just in the global warming phenomenon.  Unfettered industrialization and indiscriminate economic development have led to global warming and, in turn,  the climate change phenomenon.  But the environment is not just some “natural” realm external to ourselves, as David Suzuki continues to remind us with greater urgency every day.  It’s everything, and we –plants, animals, humans, water, land, air — are in this together.

To name only a few disturbing trends in which we now find ourselves in 2011:
  • Unsustainable population growth throughout the world from roughly 3 billion in 1960  to approximately 7 billion in 2010 (Malthus haunts us: while the rate of growth is declining, the absolute numbers are increasing unsustainably)
  • Corporate and other forms of industrialized farming with the widespread use of toxic chemicals  (Where have all the bees gone?) and,  as so many economists have been telling us for months now, a massive food shortage looming throughout the world and, as a result,  rising food prices
  • The commoditization of water ( Jean Chr├ętien had the audacity to talk about that possibility two weeks ago.)
  • The massive destruction of wildlife habitats and the extinction of countless species
  • The irresponsible clear-cutting and destruction of forests that still happens through the world
  • Our very own Canadian embarrassment: the tars sands operation and  its out-of-control carbon emissions and now scientifically proven  toxic waste leaching into the  land and water around it  (Despite aggressive Canadian lobbying, we learned very recently the EU is about to slap a “dirty fuel” label on the tar sands.)

What continues to astound and appall me is the total absence of a focused discussion about the erosion of our biosphere from any of the federal parties.  Even the Green Party, which does indeed have a comprehensive and meaningful policy on a sustainable planet, is not talking about it much, though it does form the ground of its platform.  Hard to fault the Greens given the politics of exclusion exercised against them by Big TV’s federal debates consortium.  They have a good excuse. But it would seem that, in general,  politics takes precedence over the destruction of the world during this federal election.   Everyone wants  political  power -- some because they think they may accomplished policy with it; others, alas, for its own sake.   Who can blame them?

Well I, my children, and my grandchildren can. This is the pre-eminent issue of our day. For  job growth, health care, pensions, education, tax credits, the ethical behaviour of politicians — these mean nothing as issues of concern  if we are on the way to self-extinction.  Many scientists have been arguing with increasing frequency that we may already be beyond the tipping point, that the process of self-destruction cannot be reversed but only inhibited.

We are currently spewing 388ppm (parts per million)  of CO2 in the biosphere, a disturbing notch on an escalating  trending pattern of 2ppm a year, way past the tipping point of 350ppm that scientists maintain is the real tipping point.   This is what James Hansen of America’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the first scientist to warn about global warming over two decades ago, wrote recently:  ”If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm.”   In other words, this is our last chance: if we don’t reverse that trend in the next ten years, we’re done.

via Earth Day is April 22. Will its Celebration Change Anything? |

P.S.World Environment Day, June 5:
CO2 emissions reach a record high in 2010; 80% of projected 2020 emissions from the power sector are already locked in: these bleak findings from the International Energy Agency in a recent report suggests the crisis is even more intense than we have imagined.

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